The death of Georg Philipp Telemann in 1767 paved the way for his godson, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach to take up the position of Director of Music in Hamburg. Prior to that C P E Bach had been working for Frederick the Second of Prussia in Berlin but longed for a greater musical freedom and stylistic flexibility that working in Hamburg would offer him. This included the composition of three oratorios, including the one presented here. C P E Bach worked on The Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus in collaboration with the librettist Karl Wilhelm Ramler from 1781, and in 1787 it was published by Breitkopf. A letter from the composer to his publisher subsequently revealed he considered it to be one of his greatest masterpieces—a reflection agreed upon by audiences at the time, and succeeding generations of composers, including Haydn and Beethoven who both drew inspiration from it.
Graun was in his mid-twenties when he composed this Grand Passion . It is a surprisingly mature work, full of subtle gems. When first listening to this two-CD album, I wrote: “The music is very pleasant. Although it is quite tuneful, little of it is memorable and at two hours tends to wear out its welcome. There is almost a monotonous similarity of one number to the next. It needs something rousing like the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus.” Repeated hearings of this album have increased my appreciation considerably. Even Handel liked this Passion , and quoted some of its music in his own works.